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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union's media commissioner, Viviane Reding, has thrown her weight behind internet search group Google in the row over whether it should be allowed to publish millions of scanned books online.
Earlier this year, Google struck a deal with author and publisher groups in the United States, allowing it to copy books for the Internet.
But the controversial deal has been criticized and since the has come under the gaze of the U.S. Justice Department because it does not say what Google might charge libraries, who fear the service will become an expensive must-have.
On Thursday, the EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media added her voice to the debate welcoming "private-sector initiatives" such as Google's.
"Google Books is a commercial project developed by an important player," Reding said in a statement. "It is good to see that new business models are evolving which could allow bringing more content to an increasing number of consumers."
Reding's opinion is significant as the former journalist is optimistic she will keep her position as commissioner in charge of telecoms and media when the European Union's new cabinet of commissioners is chosen later this year.
She is best known for introducing rules that forced mobile phone companies to slash the cost of making calls from abroad.
She was also instrumental in the launch of Europeana, an online register that includes books and images ranging from Shakespeare to pictures of French actress Brigitte Bardot.
But Reding said most European countries had been slow in scanning and publishing local literature for Europeana. She hopes companies like Google can take up the slack.
Earlier this year, the EU said it would study the Google deal after Germany complained that it had scanned books from U.S. libraries to create a database without asking the owners.
The Commission will hold a public hearing on Sept 7 and has invited people in the publishing industry and others to attend.
Editing by Jon Loades-Carter